President's Commentary: An appeal to Ontario political leaders - listen to public sector workers | National Union of Public and General Employees

President's Commentary: An appeal to Ontario political leaders - listen to public sector workers

Tim Hudak is misleading voters by pretending that an attack on public sector jobs and wages will deal with a financial mess that the financial sector has caused, says James Clancy, NUPGE's national president.

By James Clancy
National President
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

Ottawa (13 Jan. 2011) - Tim Hudak's vague promises to make drastic cuts in public spending should he become Ontario premier are hardly worth the praise recently heaped upon the Conservative leader by right-wing supporters, including the National Post.

The truth is that Hudak has no plan, other than an election slogan that both he and the Post are counting on to set up a convenient target to attack during the campaign for the upcoming Ontario election next fall.

In truth, Hudak is actually promising more of the same. He would be a kind of Dalton McGuinty in a hurry. And we all know how well McGuinty's plan has worked out.

There is no question that Ontario finances are a mess and it is right to blame the Liberals for getting us into the situation. But a number of factors should considered before engaging in another depressing and undeserved round of public sector bashing.

The first is to look at why we are in a crisis.

The fundamental reason is that we are still struggling to get out of the worst economic downturn in memory and the devastating loss of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing and resource sectors.

The cause of the situation is equally clear - breathtakingly reckless behaviour of Wall St. banks spurred on by an equally reckless U.S. government that refused to act until it was too late to stop the meltdown.

In Ontario, the proof that the McGuinty government has mishandled its response to this crisis can be seen - as the Post noted - in the fact that Ontario now lags other provinces in its numbers per capita of nurses, doctors, teachers and long-term beds.

Hudak's promise to tackle the situation by restraining collective bargaining agreements is a sop to his Conservative supporters but a solution without any real merit.

Wages and benefits of public sector workers are already being restrained and have been for the last decade. Can Hudak or anyone else point to any time frame within this period when wages exceeded the cost of inflation? In fact, wages have been effectively frozen for years for most people who work in the broad public sector.

The truth, which Hudak and most politicians steadfastly ignore, is that public sector workers did not create the current financial mess in Ontario any more than working people in general caused the debt and deficit crises now gripping the global financial world.

Rather, public sector workers are being singled out by Hudak as convenient scapegoats so that he does not have to deal with the real problems or take on the real people in the financial world who caused them.

We can deal with the McGuinty government at election time but until we start having a real discussion about the role of government and how best to provide these services instead of blanket cuts we will end up in the same place.

Health care workers, those who work with troubled youth, emergency response providers and others all have suggestions to make to improve public services. Wouldn't the first logical step for Hudak or anyone else seeking public office be to talk to these people and their representatives and ask for their advice rather than to simply threatening their jobs and standard of living?

Would it not also make sense, if we are really trying to reduce the deficit in Ontario, to put all potential solutions on the table for discussion, including corporate tax cuts?

How can any political party justify cutting jobs and services while doling out billions in handouts to banks, insurance companies and other large corporations, some of which are not even headquartered in Canada?

Canada's top 100 CEOs are hardly practicing restraint when they each make - on average - $6.6 million dollars a year compared to the average salary of public sector workers, which is about $45,000.00 a year. In truth, a great many public employees make considerably less than that.

Hudak likely won't concede the point as he travels the pre-election trail but public sector cuts will actually damage Ontario rather than help it out of the hole his corporate friends have created.

Why won't he tell the people what the true impact will be?

The truth is that people would not vote for him if they understood that the real result of his policies - if he gets to implement them - will be longer waiting lines in hospitals, fewer child care spaces and even more overcrowded schools.

Moreover, any public sector job losses will hurt communities where public employees live. Less money will be spent in communities big and small, including major population centres like Thunder Bay, Windsor and Toronto.

In turn, this will mean fewer houses being built and bought, fewer appliances sold and less money spent in barber shops, restaurants and countless other businesses. These real people, with real money in their wallets, will be contributing noticeably less in a great many communities that are already suffering.

Public sector workers in Ontario didn't cause the current problems. Yet we are willing to be part of the solution and we have many good suggestions to make.

The question is whether Tim Hudak, or anybody else clamouring for power in Ontario, is ready to listen?


James Clancy
National President


James Clancy is the national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE